Samsung UK marketing chief on why it is to stop being “shy and reserved” in its campaigns

Samsung UK vice-president of corporate marketing Russell Taylor explains how the brand plans to stop being “shy and reserved” in its new campaign, and admits that pushing wearables too early is a risk for marketers.

The signs were clear at Mobile World Congress (MWC) last month that Samsung is putting all of its marketing might behind its latest smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Outside the conference venue in Barcelona, enormous billboards heralded the arrival of the flagship devices, which were unveiled at a 4,000-strong gathering of the world’s press and mobile industry experts. On the same night Samsung sought to bring the news into UK living rooms by using footage from the launch event in a TV advert that ran on ITV just hours later.

There has been no let-up in the promotional blitz since, with Samsung pushing hard to drive pre-orders for the new phones before they go on sale on 10 April, both in-store and through outdoor and print adverts. This week, the brand is going further by launching a huge creative campaign for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge that aims to generate widespread excitement as the phones hit the shops. This includes a new advert starring James Corden (see above).

There is added pressure on Samsung to deliver strong sales after Gartner recently revealed it lost its number one spot in global smartphone sales to Apple in the fourth quarter of 2014. Samsung had by far the biggest share of sales in the year overall with 24.7%, but in the final quarter its share dipped by nearly 10 percentage points year-on-year as a consequence of competition from Apple’s iPhone 6, launched in September, and Chinese rivals like Huawei and Xiaomi.

In December Samsung replaced its global head of mobile marketing DJ Lee with Kim Seok-pil, who himself stepped aside just a month later, reportedly for health reasons.

Samsung’s UK vice-president of corporate marketing Russell Taylor describes the launch of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge as “a stake in the ground” that will help to reassert the brand’s credentials in the smartphone market. Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, he calls the new campaign a “blockbuster” activation that will reveal a more confident brand “as we start behaving like the leader that we are”.

The industry and media response to the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge at MWC was generally positive as analysts welcomed the handsets’ new premium design. This eschews Samsung’s former use of plastic in favour of sleek metal and glass and curved screen edges on the S6 Edge. There are big functional improvements too in the phones’ processor, camera, screen and battery life and new services like wireless phone charging.

Here Taylor explains how Samsung aims to communicate these rational benefits in its campaign, while also creating an emotional resonance that drives affinity to the brand.

Q What is the concept behind by the new advertising campaign for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones?

Russell Taylor: This is our flagship phone and very much the catalyst for most of our marketing this year. The mobile business is the key part of our turnover – we’ve got huge strength across the business with TVs and home appliances, but the mobile phone is in many ways the shop window for the brand.

Clearly we want to get people excited about the device and we’ve got a thought that really encapsulates both the power of the Samsung brand and also the innovative nature of the phone, which is ‘Next is now’.

The idea is that we are bringing forward into the present what is possible in the future. We think that’s a really powerful thought that both encapsulates our point of view about the world, but is also a good way of expressing all that we have packed into the new phone. You’ll hearing a lot about ‘Next is now’ in the months ahead.

Q How will you execute this campaign across multiple channels?

Russell Taylor: The great thing about having a big idea is that it gives you a jumping off point to communicate on all the different media and different occasions. Marketing today is all about having conversations at different points in time. Sometimes you want a detailed conversation, sometimes you want a little chat, sometimes you want a one-word message. That’s the approach I think we all take now as marketers with our campaigns.

The days of a three-week, heavy-burst TV campaign are gone. Our job now is interest building, which we started way before Mobile World Congress. We’ve been building excitement towards the launch with pre-orders and we want the launch weekend to feel like the opening of a blockbuster movie.

From there it’s about telling stories throughout the life of the campaign. Not everybody’s contract expires on 10 April – people will be buying phones throughout the course of the year so our job is to keep it exciting and interesting and to make Samsung part of the desired set that people want to buy from.

Q As a technology brand is there a lot of scope for innovation in your marketing?

Russell Taylor: Yes but that also brings challenges. The technology world is littered with lists about tech features. Engineers love features; consumers love benefits. Technology is only powerful if it plays a role in people’s lives. Our job is to translate that ground-breaking technology.

One year is an eternity in the lifetime of technology. If you bought an old device and now compare it with what’s on the market – the processing power, the memory, the battery – it’s just incredible. The trick is how do you communicate the speed of change for consumers who are not as technologically versed, and probably not as technologically interested, as the 30,000 engineers that we have?

As marketers our job is to package that all up into stories that are compelling, interesting, engaging and meaningful. That’s the exciting challenge.

Q How will you measure the impact of this campaign?

Russell Taylor: The obvious and most important metric is how many phones we sell. In order to sell out you need to drive awareness, so we look at whether we are getting the levels of awareness and buzz that we need before launch. Pre-registrations and pre-orders are indicators of that.

We also look at whether we are changing perceptions of the brand – that’s a more long-term thing of course. The mobile phone is a very different market to the TV and home appliances market, but it provides a halo effect for the whole business. It brings that mass scale because of the sheer amount of money that we put behind it and the sheer presence on the high street. The S6 is certainly a stake in the ground – your flagship devices are the best expression of what you have to say.

Samsung faces the challenge of translating groundbreaking technology into campaigns for consumers who may not be technically versed

Q At MWC Samsung directly compared certain features of the Galaxy S6 with those of the iPhone 6. Are such comparisons important to your brand strategy?

Russell Taylor: We’re very conscious of the product superiority of our device. The challenge is how do you convince people who aren’t using a device that there’s something else that’s better. Consumers don’t want to believe they’re using an inferior product.

Marketing is a balance and there are times when rational messages are very good – be that around some of the awards that we win, [positive] comments from consumers, side-by-side demonstrations and so on. But there are other times when an emotional story is very important to get people to connect emotionally so that they want to believe the rational story.

What you’ll see going forward is a much more confident brand as Samsung finds its voice and we start behaving like the leader that we are, rather than a shy, reserved brand that doesn’t express a point of view about the world. In Barcelona [at MWC] you saw a little glimpse of that brand personality and brand twinkle starting to shine through.

Q Samsung is one of many brands to have launched wearable technology, yet consumer adoption is relatively low. Is this a challenge for marketers like yourself?

Russell Taylor: In the world of technology we’re always at the dawn of something. We are at the very early stages of wearables and connected technology – that exciting cusp where there’s lots and lots of innovation that is showing the potential of what’s possible.

As marketers it’s our job to work with the early adopters and try to make this technology mainstream. That’s a very different challenge to a smartphone where we’ve got penetration levels of 95%-plus, or televisions, which are all about how you get people to replace more frequently. What’s absolutely certain is that if new technology helps people in their lives then it won’t be a fad.

Samsung watch breaker

Q Should brands put more marketing spend behind wearables?

Russell Taylor: There are some really interesting battlegrounds that will take place in the future and the challenge as always is the chronology – the timing of what you do, how you do it and when you do it. If you go too soon and too mass-market with something that you’re not ready for, then of course disappointment and non-adoption will follow.

So there are inherent risks in going too fast, and inherent dangers in going too slow and missing the boat. These are the great technological and marketing challenges that you’ll see answered in the months and years ahead. As always there isn’t one solution. We’re experimenting and learning and we’re confident that we’ve got some really interesting solutions ahead of us.

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